Are Anti-Inflammatory Drugs the Future of Depression Treatment?

An exciting new study suggests they might be.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 19, 2020

“Inflammation” has been one of the most popular health buzzwords lately, and this has prompted a new wave of research on all the ways it can affect your mind and body, including its role in depression. If inflammation can cause depression, does that mean that anti-inflammatory medications can help treat it? That’s exactly what a new study out of the Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China set out to understand.

Published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the study analyzed data from 26 previously conducted randomized controlled trials to find out whether anti-inflammatory drugs work better than a placebo treatment, either alone or when used in conjunction with standard antidepressant treatment. The anti-inflammatory treatments included in the 26 previous studies were: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); omega-3 fatty acids; drugs that curb production of inflammatory chemicals (cytokine inhibitors); statins; steroids; antibiotics (minocyclines); a drug used to treat sleep disorders (modafinil); and N-acetyl cysteine, known as NAC, and used to loosen the excess phlegm of cystic fibrosis and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The findings indicate that anti-inflammatory drugs were more effective than placebos, and enhance the effects of standard antidepressant treatment. In fact, the anti-inflammatory treatments were 52 percent more effective in reducing the severity of depression symptoms overall, and 79 percent more effective at curbing symptoms than the placebos. And the most effective anti-inflammatory treatments were NSAIDs, omega-3 fatty acids, statins, and minocyclines.

“The results of this systematic review suggest that anti-inflammatory agents play an antidepressant role in patients with major depressive disorder and are reasonably safe,” the authors write. Still, more research is needed to determine the most effective combination and dosage of medication.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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